“We’re investigating a murder then?”
“You’d think.” Dai made no attempt to keep the wry note from his voice. “But we got the budget for this from Antiquities. Our masters value the stolen document, ‘an artefact of Roman significance’, more than the life of the courier — but then she was only a Briton.”
His mood was not improved when they went to interview the owner of the stolen document, a Roman Citizen and an official who also owned the chump half of Valentia in northern Britain. Claudius Albus Balbus. Balbus refused a polite invitation to come to the vigiles headquarters, so they tracked him down to his plush hotel.
It was a shimmering construction built beside the skyliner ascent, convenient to transport access for visiting Romans. Dai noted the stylized eagle, wings spread, hovering over the door ‘SPQR’ clutched in its ceramic talons. He was not surprised this building was sub aquila — Roman only. He was also not surprised when he and Bryn had to show their ID before being allowed past by the discreet security guard in the portico. He was surprised, however, when Bryn nudged him in the ribs and nodded at the retreating back of a man who had just walked out of the building.
“Atty Brickenden. Thug for hire. How could scum like him even get let into this place?”
“Maybe he was providing drugs for one of the visitors.” Dai suggested.
“True. Or fixing them up with a girl.”
Asking after Balbus, once inside, Dai was told the magistratus could be found in the atrium. Dai led the way until he was brought to a halt at the door of the open courtyard. An elegant woman, wearing a stylish stola, daringly cut and in this season’s colours, stood occupying the entrance.
“Oh, there you are. At last.” She lifted a languid hand imperiously and pointed to her feet. “Crinitia needs to visit the little girl’s room.”
Dai’s gaze followed her pointing finger down to what appeared to be a perfect sphere of fluff, from which emerged a leash that was looped over her arm. By the time he had registered that ‘Crinitia’ had to be some variety of canine, the woman was pressing the end of the lead into his hand and, as he opened his mouth to explain, she walked away.
Behind him, Bryn was suffering an inexplicable fit of coughing and wore an unrepentant grin when Dai spun round.
“I don’t know how you do it. Your Celtic charm wins the ladies every time, Bard.”
Dai returned the grin, but with an edge of irritation behind it. He held out the lead.
“Looks like you get to take Fluffy here for a mingo and merda, Decanus Cartivel.”
Bryn’s smile faded suddenly. “You don’t seriously mean— ”
“Oh but I do.”
From Dying to Alter History by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, one of the fourteen alternate history short stories in Tales From Alternate Earths 3 from Inklings Press.
Please note these are not always accurate translations, they are how these terms are used in Dai and Julia’s world.
Decanus – sargeant.
Magistratus – senior official with legal jurisdiction over an area.
Merda – shit
Mingo – piss
Portico – entrance hall
SPQR (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus) -The Senate and People of Rome.
Stola – female formal wear.
Sub aquila – literally ‘under the eagle’. An eagle above the entrance of any building means it is Citizen access only – aside for those who might work there of course.
Valentia – we would call it Northern England.
Vigiles – Police. In Dai and Julia’s world the police are a sub-branch of the military.
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